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Markel Brown, rebounding keys for No. 7 Oklahoma State moving forward

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — When Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash all announced that they would be returning to Stillwater for another season, Oklahoma State fans immediately began to think championship thoughts. Oklahoma State hasn’t won the Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and their last Big 12 tournament title came in 2005, so it’s safe to say that the program is hungry for another championship.

In their 78-73 win over No. 20 Colorado on Saturday night, it was a group effort that led the Cowboys to their 11th win of the season. Brown scored 23 points, and with Michael Cobbins struggling mightily (two points, one rebound and five fouls) he also grabbed 11 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season.

Brown was one of four Cowboys to finish in double figures, with Smart (18 points), Phil Forte III (16) and Nash (15) being the others. Oklahoma State’s offensive balance was on full display in the second half as they shot 61.9% from the field and averaged 1.24 points per possession, doing a far better job of distributing the basketball. That isn’t about passing the ball around so much as it’s about finding guys in spots where they can be most successful.

“I didn’t like our offense in the first half. I kept telling our guys that we were our own worst enemy,” Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said after the game. “Throwing the ball away, taking some tough shots…we’ll get the shot we want if we just be patient and get the ball to certain people in certain places. In the second half we did that. We got the ball to the right people in the right places, and good things happened.”

The chief beneficiary of this against Colorado was Brown, and in a game that featured two of the nation’s best point guards he stood out. Oklahoma State is the biggest threat to Kansas’ current run of nine straight (outright or shared) Big 12 regular season titles, with Markel Brown being one reason why. And with that has come the recognition that wasn’t always there.

“I think he used to be [overlooked]. I think now he has the reputation of being one of the better players in America,” noted Ford. “More people are realizing that he can score, defend and rebound, so I think everybody knows about him now.”

There are areas in which Oklahoma State needs to improve before the start of Big 12 play, with rebounding being one. On the season opponents are rebounding more than 32% of their missed shots, with Colorado corralling almost 43% of their misses on Saturday. That resulted in 21 second-chance points for the Buffaloes, keeping them afloat despite shooting 6-for-22 from beyond the arc.

And with the front courts that teams like Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State feature, how well Oklahoma State performs on the glass will determine their place in the Big 12 pecking order.

“Definitely rebounding,” Brown said when asked where the Cowboys need to improve. “It was big tonight, and it’s going to be big all through the Big 12. If we rebound and continue to get back and stop teams in transition, then we’ll be great.”

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: